“One of the most significant accomplishments I feel I can do as a human can make a difference in someone’s life and, in turn, spread the chain of compassion.” – Leslie Gonzalez
Texas Heart Institute (THI) School of Perfusion Technology student, Leslie Gonzalez, was awarded the prestigious Perfusion Without Borders scholarship last year and travelled with Novick Cardiac Alliance (NCA) to Medellin, Colombia in February of 2020. Leslie chose Novick Cardiac Alliance, which was founded by Dr. William Novick, a pediatric cardiac surgeon and a professor of international child health. Dr. Novick, who has led medical teams to treat children with heart disease in more than 30 countries around the world for more than 20 years, has saved thousands of children’s lives and inspired upcoming perfusionists like Leslie Gonzalez and her seasoned mentor Deborah Adams—both featured in this excellent video from THI School of Perfusion Technology.
“’In Libya, there are several thousand children that need heart surgery, including hundreds of new-borns’, says Dr. Novick. That is why, with the support of the Presidency Council and the UN’s World Health Organization, Dr. Novick has launched a one-year national program, hoping to treat more than 400 Libyan children’s hearts.”
Read more in this article featuring Cardiac Alliance’s work in Libya, by United Nations journalist Abel Kavanagh.
Novick Cardiac Alliance worked at Hospital del Nino’s Dr. Francisco Ycaza Bustamante in Guayaquil, Ecuador April 28 – May 12, 2018. This was the first time our team returned to Hospital del Nino since 2014. This trip was made possible by the generous donations from our partners “With Every Heartbeat, the Fialeny Foundation” and support from Ecuadorian charity “Fundacion El Cielo Para Los Ninos.” Our team consisted of 17 medical volunteers from 12 different centers in the USA and Argentina.
Over the two week trip, NCA Cardiologist Dr Mark Gellat evaluated nearly 70 children, performing echocardiograms and assessing these children for heart defects. Led by NCA pediatric heart surgeon Dr Marcelo Cardarelli, fifteen children received life-saving heart surgery in 8 days of operation. We were pleased to discover that the local team in Guayaquil had been continuing their education and teaching new staff skills to become more competent in pediatric cardiac care and surgery. The local surgeon Dr Hernan Montero has been operating in the absence of visiting teams and the ICU has been led by Venezuelan Intensivist Ricardo Briceno. Each morning during patient rounds, Dr Briceno quizzes nurses and new doctors about a specific defect or complication in order to expand their critical thinking skills.
The ICU team was led by PICU nurse educators Farzana Shah and Roslyn Rivera. Our ICU physicians and nurses provided 24 hour care for these children before and after surgery the entire two weeks. Many of the children were discharged from the hospital within 48 hours of surgery. The majority of the children we operated during this trip were between 5-12 years old, with simple heart defects that require surgery in order for them to survive into adulthood. These children have been on a waiting list for surgery for several years, but there are not enough surgeons in Ecuador to provide surgery. The babies born with more complex heart defects are often not as lucky. Complex heart defects require early intervention for babies to survive to age one. Our trip to Guayaquil helped enhance the medical skills of the surgeons, doctors, and nurses so they can continue to provide treatment for children with heart disease in their country.
Milan is a baby with a complex heart defect that requires immediate surgery to survive.
For four months, Milan’s mother watched her baby turned dark blue whenever he would cry. Several times, she took him to the doctor in the village where they live, but the doctor would say that Milan would “grow out of it.” Searching for answers, Milan’s family brought him to the pay-clinic in Guayaquil. There the doctors told her he had a serious problem with his heart and he needed to see the cardiologist at the Bustamante Children’s Hospital. As if by fate, the next day, NCA cardiologist Dr Gellat saw Milan. Just from seeing his blue pale appearance, Dr Gellat knew immediately that Milan did indeed have a complex heart defect. The echocardiogram showed that Milan had pulmonary atresia, meaning blood was not flowing the normal way into his lungs to receive oxygen. His blue color was from severe lack of oxygenated blood. Our team discussed a plan and Milan received surgery to create a pathway for blood to flow to his lungs.
Milan had a difficult recovery after his surgery, but was doing very well when our team left the country. We have received updates from Milan’s parents that is now home and happily growing. His parents were immensely happy to see their baby boy finally looking well.
It’s babies like Milan that remind us how desperately advanced pediatric cardiac care is needed in developing countries. Our teams strive to educate local teams about pediatric cardiology so that babies like Milan can be properly diagnosed and treated early, and given a chance to survive.
PICU nurse Erin Serrano recently joined our team on her first medical mission trip to Ukraine. Erin shares her unique story about why she began her career as a pediatric cardiac nurse and how volunteering with Novick Cardiac Alliance was a dream her entire life.
My journey to pursue a career in the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit began the day I was born. Just a few days after birth, I was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and underwent multiple cardiac surgeries and procedures to save my life. Volunteering with Novick Cardiac Alliance to help patients and families with similar stories as my own wasn’t a choice, it was something I knew I had to do. It was my destiny.
Coming to Ukraine and stepping into a healthcare system that I knew nothing about was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. After just a few days, I realized that leaving my comfort zone was more than worth it. From the first day that we arrived at the hospital, I learned just how resourceful the staff members had to be, considering their limited medical supplies, equipment, and medications. Imagine being a parent of a child requiring cardiac surgery and you are responsible for providing part of their medical supplies because the hospital simply cannot obtain enough. I was astounded to see the local nurses using resterilized supplies. These supplies would most certainly be thrown away after one use in the United States. I realize that we take for granted the abundance of simple supplies and they are precious items in developing countries like Ukraine.
Despite the obvious language barrier that exists, Cardiac Alliance has been successful in educating the Ukrainian medical team in everything from basic ICU care to the most complex cardiac surgeries. To be a part of that education process was the most rewarding part of my trip.
One out of every 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect and CHD’s are the most common cause of infant death among birth defects. If I have helped just one nurse better their practice while caring for these patients, then I know my time spent was worthwhile. I certainly hope I can volunteer with Cardiac Alliance again and again. Thank you NCA for allowing me to be a part of your incredible mission and to the entire Ukrainian team for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined.
In August 2010, before the end of the Iraq War, Dr. Novick and his teams began traveling to Iraq. We believed that Dr. Novick’s vision to provide cardiac care and surgery to children suffering from heart disease was more important than politics, religion or where these children were born. Over the course of the past 8 years, we have worked in 6 hospitals located in 5 different cities throughout Iraq. In December 2017, we celebrated performing our 1,000th pediatric heart surgery in Iraq.
Mohammed was only 17 days old when he received his life-saving heart surgery from our team in Karbala, Iraq. He was born with Transposition of the Great Arteries and without surgery, the chances of him surviving to be one year of age was slim. Weighing just 3 kilograms, Mohammed’s heart was only the size of a strawberry. Cardiac Alliance surgeon, Dr Marcello Cardarelli and Iraqi surgeon Dr Ahmed Ebra worked together to perform this delicate surgery. Mohammed recovered over the course of two weeks in the ICU and is now home with his parents just outside of Karbala. Mohammed may be the 1,000 child, but there are still thousands more children waiting for heart surgery in Iraq.
Since 2010, we have expanded our programs across the country of Iraq, beginning in the north in Sulaymaniyah to the spiritual capitol of Najaf. In the south, we began pediatric cardiac programs in Basra and at two centers in Nasiriyah. Our program in Karbala, located in central Iraq, has flourished with a fast-learning Iraqi pediatric cardiac surgeon. It’s through our collaboration with these 5 centers in Iraq that we have been able to provide life-saving heart surgery for over 1,000 children in Iraq.
Novick Cardiac Alliance is the only organization providing pediatric heart surgeries in Iraq. We strive to fulfill the ever-growing list of children who require surgery to survive. Without our volunteers and supporters, we could not achieve this. Thank you for you continued support.
Brooke Tracy, a perfusion student from the US, recently joined our team on a trip to Kharkiv, Ukraine. She describes her experience as a student on her first medical mission trip.
“There are no words to describe how amazing and influential my first mission trip with the Novick Cardiac Alliance was, but I can say with absolute certainty I would recommend it to anyone! Not only was the team amazing and so well versed in healthcare skills, but they also were some of the most empathetic and passionate people I have had the opportunity to work alongside. Not to mention the local Ukrainian team. They all were very excited to learn from NCA in ways to improve their practice, and they were incredibly welcoming and appreciative of all that NCA has done for their hospital system.
As a perfusion student, I didn’t really know what to expect as our field is pretty dependent upon technology and supplies. I had done some research on the Ukrainian healthcare system, but was vastly underprepared when it came to fully understanding the difficulties in which the local team has in acquiring, what in our practice, is simple equipment. But the lack of equipment never stumped the local perfusionist. Alex and Olga were some of the most innovative perfusionists I’d ever met. In order to make the most of each piece of equipment, their circuit design and construction was innovative. Both were incredibly knowledgeable, but it was humbling to see how much they each were looking to learn more and grow in their practice.”
What she gained as a student:
“In the end, the most inspiring thing about this trip for me was to see the passion and moral of the local team. The nurses were so compassionate and went out of their way to comfort their patients. They really did an amazing job, especially those that were medical students working night shift to gain experience! You could tell that this hospital served their local community in more than just physical care, as the empathy was overflowing with every patient. The parents were allowed back in the ICU with their children post-op and it made a world of difference in the recovery of our patients.
After returning from this trip, not only had I gained a ton of knowledge and skills from both the NCA team and the local team, but I also had a better appreciation for all of the resources that we have at our disposal in the US. I have developed some new practices and little tricks that make my perfusion practice more resourceful and limit my medical waste since returning from the mission.
I can not only recommend missions to anyone in the field, but especially to students because I feel that it gives you a advantage to being a resourceful, motivated, and passionate perfusionist, which is exactly what this world needs more of.”
-Brooke Tracy, Perfusion Student, South Carolina, USA
Artur was born on the 1st of September in Luhansk, the easternmost city of Ukraine. Luhansk has been under the control of the separatist rebel group since 2014, and is known as “Luhansk People’s Republic.” This city was nearly destroyed by the war in 2014 and many public services are difficult to obtain, including quality care at hospitals.
When Artur was 5 days old, his mother noticed he was breathing very fast and turning blue. She took him to the hospital in Luhansk but the doctors were unable to give a definite diagnosis and sent him home. Weeks continued and Artur’s mother became more concerned with her baby’s blue color. Again she went to the hospital and after several tests, the doctor thought he noticed something wrong with Artur’s heart. Finally the doctor in Luhansk called the Kharkiv Cardiac Center. This doctor sent a photo of Artur’s chest x-ray to Kharkiv pediatric cardiac surgeon Olga Buchevna and she recommended Artur be transferred immediately to Kharkiv.
Upon his arrival at the hospital in Kharkiv, cardiologist Daria Kulikova performed a echocardiogram and diagnosed Artur with Transposition of the Great Arteries, plus a tiny ASD and tiny VSD. This heart defect usually must be repaired within two weeks of age, and Artur’s was very severe. He was not getting enough blood to his body or brain, with oxygen saturation levels barely 50%. His surgery would be complicated. Luckily our team arrived three days later and on October 9th, Artur received his life saving heart surgery. Kharkiv pediatric cardiac surgeon, Olga Buchevna, performed this surgery flawlessly with assistance from Cardiac Alliance surgeon Kathleen Fenton. Artur recovered quickly in the ICU and was drinking milk two days after surgery. His serious facial expressions proved to us that this little boy has a strong will to survive.
There are babies like Artur around the globe, fighting for their lives, waiting for medical assistance to mend their heart defects before it’s too late.
Each year, the American Society of Extracorporeal Technology offers a scholarship to one Perfusion student to travel on a medical mission trip with an organization of their choice. This year’s winner is perfusion student Kim Morris and she will be traveling with Novick Cardiac Alliance to Ukraine early next year.
Kim moved across the United States from Alaska to New York to pursue education in perfusion. From her experience, she has learned that “a successful perfusionist is reliant on gaining the trust of a room full of people that may come from completely different backgrounds. You treat your patient with your equipment and knowledge, but you also treat the surgeon and a room full of professionals with careful communication and a calm demeanor to ease a stressful situation.”
Several years ago, Kim was a medical volunteer in Ghana and from that experience realized she aspired to gain more personal knowledge to more directly help people in need on her next volunteer trip. Becoming a perfusionist was her answer. She now is feeling more qualified to utilize her skills to directly assist those in developing countries. Kim is excited to join Novick Cardiac Alliance as a perfusion student, honestly stating, “I’ve learned to participate in a highly skilled team to give a patient a permanent, life changing surgery.”
We look forward to having Kim join our team as a perfusion student in Ukraine!
In 2012, we met Abdul, a Libyan boy who was born with four heart defects, called Tetralogy of Fallot. Dr Kathleen Fenton operated on Abdul alongside Libyan pediatric cardiac surgeon Dr Wejdan Abou Amer. Because his heart defects were diagnosed late, Abdul was very sick following his surgery and remained in the ICU for many days. Our team was scheduled to leave the country, but Dr Fenton changed her flight to stay and help the Libyan team care for Abdul.
In June, our team returned to Benghazi and met Abdul’s little brother Mohammed. Mohammed has also been diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot. His parents were devastated to learn their second son also had a life threatening heart defect. It is “life threatening” because he lives in war-torn Libya with limited basic health care available, let alone pediatric heart surgery.
Since our team has been visiting Libya and educating the local Libyan medical professionals for several years, we are witnessing the magic our work accomplishes. Mohammed needs a type of surgical procedure that the local Libyan surgeon Dr Wejdan can now perform on her own! Dr Fenton collaborated with the Libyan team and determined that Mohammed’s surgery can be performed by Dr Wejdan after our team leaves the country. From our continued teaching, she has developed the skills to do this, and the ICU team has the skills necessary to care for a patient like Mohammed.
Without our continued perseverance to travel to Libya, children like Mohammed and his brother Abdul would not survive. There would be no miraculous story to tell.
And by the way, Abdul is now 6 years old and attending school!